The group has granted more than 1,400 interest-free loans to area residents, totaling nearly $3 million — and it has more to lend.
By Jan L. Apple
In the fall of 2009, Katy Frank was struggling to finance her senior year at Smith College. Her mother suggested she turn to the Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia, which she had learned about while reading a book on college loans and scholarships.
Frank, who had already accrued debt from federal loans, obtained an interest-free loan from the organization and graduated in 2010. She applied for a second loan in 2013 to help pay tuition for a medical science preparatory certificate program at Drexel University College of Medicine.
“It was a great relief not to have extra interest to pay back along with the loan,” said Frank, a 26-year-old resident of Warrington and one of many recipients the society has helped since its inception in 1984.
Besides education, loans have filled a gamut of needs: medical and dental expenses, child care, furniture, security deposits, home repairs, weddings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs, equipment for businesses, even fertility treatments.
Serving a nine-county region encompassing Philadelphia, its suburbs and South Jersey, the organization offers traditional loans — up to $7,500 — to Jewish individuals and those working for a Jewish communal agency or synagogue. Loans must be repaid within two to three years, depending on the amount, and there are no added fees. There is some more flexibility on the timing for educational loans. The society, a member of the International Association of Jewish Free Loans, also recently launched business loans, which are open to the general community.
Since its founding 30 years ago, the Hebrew Free Loan Society has granted more than 1,400 interest-free loans to area residents, totaling nearly $3 million. To mark this milestone, a celebration was held Sept. 10 at Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, where it all began.
With about 150 in attendance, the evening, underwritten by Firstrust Bank, included a special tribute to one of the group’s founders, the late Rabbi Aaron Landes — who passed away in April after serving the congregation for 36 years — along with 13 additional founding families.
Speakers included former Gov. Ed Rendell; two loan recipients; Marshal and Tamar Granor, co-presidents for the past decade; board member Philip Witman and Joshua Landes, son of the late rabbi.
“Rabbi Landes was the moving force behind it all,” said Bernard Granor of Elkins Park, Marshal’s father and the society’s first president, who also helped found the group with his wife, Marie.
Granor, 86, remembers the rabbi asking him to get involved with a worthy cause — the creation of a Hebrew Free Loan Society. Although others existed throughout the country at the time, the region did not have such an organization.
The first parlor meeting was at the home of Madlyn and Leonard Abramson, who were among the original founders, Granor said. The core group raised $60,000, marking the birth of the society. Although it began at the Elkins Park congregation, its name changed in 2005 to reflect the broader community it serves.
Recalling the early years, Sora Landes, the late rabbi’s widow, said her husband, who had also been a naval chaplain and a rear admiral, “was a very compassionate man. When he saw a need, he liked to try to address it in any way he could.”
Landes, 81, explained that her mother-in-law, Bessie, had been active in raising money for Jews in need in Revere, Mass., where the late rabbi’s father — Rabbi Henry A. Landes — served two Orthodox congregations.
“My husband was very proud of the Hebrew Free Loan Society,” said Landes. “He felt that it was one of his greatest achievements.”
The concept of lending money without interest dates to biblical times and is referenced in the Torah, noted Marshal Granor, 58, of Elkins Park. He cited Exodus (22:44): “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.”
Dignity and anonymity are integral components of the tradition. “We keep the identity of our recipients as confidential as possible,” said Tamar Granor.
“The wonderful thing about our organization is that we recycle our funds,” she continued. “The money goes so much further.”
Bernard Granor reflected on the breadth of their reach. In the 1980s, he said, loans were given to a significant number of Jews from the former Soviet Union as they built new lives here.
Loans were used to rent apartments, purchase furniture, books, or cars, attend classes to learn English or enroll in a college education.
“It’s really amazing,” he said. “We’ve watched people pull themselves up by their bootstraps, providing just that little bit of extra help.”
Co-presidents Tamar and Marshal Granor are still beaming at the success of the inaugural tribute event, which raised over $30,000. Those funds, they said, will enable the group to further its outreach.
Brad Gellman, 36, knows firsthand the group’s impact. A professional photographer, Gellman attended the gathering as both a former beneficiary and the official photographer.
Several years ago, Gellman, who grew up in Cheltenham and was a member of Beth Sholom, needed to purchase additional equipment like cameras and lenses for his business. Because it was quite costly, Gellman said, he applied for a loan.
“It was very helpful at the time,” said Gellman. “It’s more than a mitzvah,” he said of the group’s far-reaching impact.
And the group apparently has more to offer. Said Tamar Granor: “We have money to lend.”
For more information, go to hflphilly.org or contact Jonathan Harmon, executive director, at (215) 820-7703 or [email protected].